AG closes case against judge over Sara Netanyahu bribery case
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AG closes case against judge over Sara Netanyahu bribery case

Avichai Mandelblit rules Hila Gertsel was not presented with an ‘offer on the table’ in return for ending fraud investigation against PM’s wife

Retired judge Hila Gerstel attends a Constitution, Law and Justice Committee meeting in the Knesset, on January 27, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Retired judge Hila Gerstel attends a Constitution, Law and Justice Committee meeting in the Knesset, on January 27, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel’s attorney general on Monday announced he was closing the bribery investigation of a former senior judge connected to a criminal probe of Sara Netanyahu.

Avichai Mandelblit said he was shelving the case against Hila Gerstel due to a lack of concrete evidence, taking the position of police investigators and state prosecutors, according to a statement from the Ministry of Justice.

Investigators said the evidence that sparked the initial probe into former district court judge Hila Gerstel, dubbed Case 1270, was revealed to have been incorrect.

Investigators initially believed that Gerstel had been offered a better chance at being appointed attorney general if she dropped an investigation. The case Gerstel was suspected to have been asked to close was a probe into alleged misuse of public funds by Sara Netanyahu, the wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife Sara, center, sits in a courtroom in Jerusalem, on October 7, 2018. (Amit Shabi, Yedioth Ahronoth, Pool via AP)

Gerstel was not presented with a concrete offer and could not say for certain she was presented with a bribe by Nir Hefetz, Netanyahu’s former family spokesman, as investigators initially believed, the Justice Ministry said. Their conversation was abstract, Gerstel clarified to investigators, and did not involve an “offer on the table.”

The investigation into Gerstel was first reported in February 2018, when media outlets said police were looking into allegations that Hefetz and Kamir had offered in 2015 to have Gerstel appointed attorney general if she would drop the investigation into Netanyahu. The prime minister, who was never a suspect in the case, said at the time he thought it highly unlikely that Hefetz had advanced any such idea.

“The case was opened after information reached the Israel Police, backed by evidence, that suggested that in late 2015 Judge Hila Gerstel was offered, by Eli Kamir and Nir Hefetz, the advancement of her appointment as attorney general — in exchange for her commitment to close a case under investigation at the time, and thus to favor her candidacy [for the post],” police said in a statement.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at the Globes conference in Jerusalem on December 20, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The case against Sara Netanyahu, meanwhile, turned into a formal indictment in September, when Mandelblit informed Netanyahu he intended to charge her with fraud for allegedly diverting some NIS 360,000 ($104,000) in public funds for her own use, with the specific intention of avoiding payment of personal expenses.

The charges relate to the overdrawing of funds from state coffers for private meals ordered to the prime minister’s residence.

The Netanyahus have denied any wrongdoing, and say they are the victims of a political witch hunt driven by a hostile media.

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